Despite Holland being sacked three times, the offensive line was able to give him plenty of time in the pocket. (Ben Kleppinger)

By Jonathan Stark

Last Thursday the only thing that went the Colonels’ way was the coin flip. The rest of the game was an uphill battle ending in a 40-7 loss to Cincinnati. “I felt good about how hard our kids played; it was a hard hitting game,” head coach Dean Hood said. “Our kids were running around, flying around, knocking them around. I was proud of that.”

On the opening drive for Eastern they were forced to punt after just five plays.

Cincinnati didn’t mess around. They marched up the field, covering 72 yards in 12 plays and picking up five first downs. Senior quarterback Dustin Grutza threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mardy Gilyard to take a 6-0 lead.

Colonel Chris Harris was able to break through the line on the extra-point attempt to get a hand on the kick and deflect it.

Eastern’s second drive was as unsuccessful as the first. They picked up only one first down, covering just over 20 yards before punting.

The Bearcats continued to move the ball effectively through the air and on the ground on their next drive. Eastern’s Brandon Gathof had the chance to pick off a Grutza pass in the middle of the drive but the ball deflected off his chest and fell incomplete.

The first quarter ended mid-drive with Cincinnati leading 6-0.

Cincinnati continued to march downfield and was knocking at Eastern’s door on the 2-yard line. Senior Dominick Goodman got free in the end zone for a touchdown but the play was called back after a offensive pass interference call. The Bearcats were pushed back to Eastern’s 17-yard line but it didn’t do any good as Grutza found Goodman again in the end zone for a penalty-free touchdown and a 12-0 lead.

Cincinnati would miss the extra point.

Eastern punted on its next possession. A big return by D.J. Woods gave the Bearcats a short field, and they scored three plays later. Running back John Goebol punched it in from the 1-yard line and Cincinnati took a 19-0 lead after the extra point.

Eastern finally got something going on the ensuing kickoff as Jeremy Caldwell had a 51-yard return to the Cincinnati 49. Eastern would move the ball down to the Cincinnati 24 before attempting a 40-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-1. Senior Taylor Long’s attempt fell short and was no good.

The Colonel defense had its first stop of the game on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out and punt by Cincinnati. But the Colonels gave the ball right back, punting after three plays.

It appeared that Eastern’s defense had finally come to play when senior Tyjuan Jones, a transfer from Cincinnati, knocked the ball out of Scott Johnson’s grip. Eastern’s Caldwell recovered the fumble. Caldwell also had 10 tackles.

Eastern suffered the same fate as Cincinnati. After a Stephen Sizemore reception, Cincinnati’s DeAngelo Smith jarred the ball loose and Ricardo Mathews recovered the fumble for the Bearcats.

On the very next play, Grutza slung one deep to Gilyard for a 47-yard touchdown strike. Cincinnati led 26-0.

The Colonels would once again punt. And the Bearcats would run out the clock and go into the locker room dominating 26-0, while Eastern would go in the locker room looking for answers.

“The biggest thing we did at half was just try to show them what (Cincinnati) was doing to us structurally and try to get a beat on some of their formations and plays,” Hood said. “The biggest adjustment was to just make sure that our kids understood that we would keep our focus and we were gonna come out in the second half and not lie down and quit.”

Cincinnati out-played Eastern in just about every way in the first half. The most lopsided statistic was the Bearcats’ 339 yards of offense to the Colonels’ 84. Holland was an outstanding 9-12 in the first half but was more than outdone by Grutza and his 226 yards and three touchdown passes.

Cincinnati must have talked about clock management over the intermission because on their opening drive they had the ball for just over nine minutes. During the drive, Jones forced another fumble but it was recovered by Grutza. Jones would finish with seven tackles along with his two forced fumbles.

On fourth-and-8 on the Eastern 30, Cincinnati went for it. Grutza picked up the first down on a 9-yard pass to Goodman.

On the Eastern 2-yard line, Grutza ran it in himself and made it 33-0.

After Cincinnati’s drive took nearly two-thirds of the quarter, Eastern’s drive took less than two minutes before their sixth punt of the game.

Grutza would not return to the game. He finished 21-28 with three passing touchdowns, nearly 300 yards, and a rushing touchdown.

Junior quarterback Tony Pike didn’t miss a beat. He moved the Bearcats down the field and into the end zone for the sixth and final time of the night. Pike hit Goodman for his second touchdown of the night. Goodman had 10 catches for 144 yards.

The Bearcats then led 40-0.

With less than two minutes in the third quarter the offense managed to put together their first scoring drive of the game. Holland completed a 19-yard pass to Cody Watts, followed by a 61-yard pass to Watts for a touchdown. Watts was able to get behind the defense, make the catch, and run into the end zone untouched.

“Me and Al talked on the sideline the series before and we saw the corner kept biting down. And he said next time he does it we’re going deep,” Watts said. “We both saw the corner come up and we just reacted and scored. It was a pretty exciting little play.”

Watts was moved from quarterback to receiver in preseason camp.

“It’s exciting, especially having all the offensive linemen come and meet you in the end zone 70 yards away,” Watts said. “That shows that they’re ready to play football too.”

Long hit the extra point and Eastern got on the board, making the score 40-7.

Cincinnati would punt on the ensuing possession after a three-and-out.

Eastern seemed to be rolling on offense now. The Colonels moved the ball down to the Cincinnati red zone on the 17-yard line before Holland was sacked for a loss of 15. On third-and-27, Eastern looked to be running the same play that they had scored on earlier. Holland’s pass to Shannon Davis was underthrown and picked off by sophomore Justin Moore at the 2-yard line.

Cincinnati’s possession led to a punt. Eastern returned the favor, and then Cincinnati punted back yet again.

Holland was replaced by sophomore Trevor Hoskins with four minutes remaining. Holland was 12-17 with an interception, a touchdown pass and 141 yards.

“We had a few bright spots, but they played great defense all night. I’ve got to give a hat off to them,” Holland said. “We just gotta get in the film room and correct the things we did wrong tonight. It’s not just one guy; it’s a whole unit. We win and lose as all 11 on offense.”

Eastern punted for the eighth and final time, and Cincinnati ran the clock out, sealing the 40-7 victory.

The Bearcats stacked up over 550 yards on offense compared to Eastern’s 195.

“The thing that hurt us was we couldn’t run the football effectively and gave up big plays,” Hood said. “I thought we played hard. We didn’t play real smart and I think that was backed up by the film. The film showed mistakes we shouldn’t have made.”

Cincinnati (1-0, 0-0 Big East) will play at No. 4 Oklahoma Saturday, Eastern (0-1, 0-0 OVC), ranked No. 24 in the FCS, will play rival Western Kentucky (0-1) for the very last Battle of the Bluegrass Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium.